GateWorld’s editors have visited the Stargate production offices on two occasions. One thing that we’ve noticed is how much series creators Brad Wright and Robert Cooper care about the shows they are making, and about how Stargate is perceived by viewers. On both occasions they have talked with us for double our anticipated interview time. We think it’s because they want to give fans the straight-talk on why they do things the way they do — and why they love their work.
In Part 1 of our interview, the producers looked back on SG-1 Season Eight and Atlantis Season One, and described what went into re-conceiving SG-1 as a series for a very new ninth year. In Part 2, they talked about the new cast members. In this final installment, Wright and Cooper discuss the challenges of continuing to produce a long-running series, as well as their own personal commitment to Stargate.
GateWorld’s interview is available in MP3 audio format for easy listening. Part three about 17 minutes long, and is also transcribed below. You can also download the interview to your MP3 player and take GateWorld with you!
GateWorld: You guys often field questions and criticisms that we’ve seen about, “Why doesn’t the team go off world anymore?” Obviously there are budgetary issues. “Why are there so many trees?” Four people going through the gate to discover a new planet … Has Season Nine — this new formula, the new team members — does that reintroduce that?
Robert Cooper: Every single episode, but one — not even that one. Every single episode in the first half of Season Nine includes off-world. There’s one, you would call “Earth-based episode.” I think that will feel like, “Ooh, cool, we’re on Earth!”
Brad Wright:: Well, it’s got a twist to it that makes it not seem …
RC: A real alien quality to it.
BW:: And Atlantis — we visited Earth very briefly and we’re back out.
RC: One of the things we did in response to that criticism which, to a certain extent was money and on another level we’re dealing with the fact that Richard Dean Anderson was the star and was the General, and we had to tell stories revolving around him and the base — as we started spinning stories, we’ve kind of run out of locations to shoot in. They’re going away. Even the trees are going away.
BW:: The city [of Vancouver] is growing to the extent that we have a hard time finding shots that don’t include telephone poles or new developments going up.
RC: And so we said, “How do we do this? How do we go to alien planets?” And then economically we realized through past experience that building a big set and amortizing it properly over a certain number of episodes allows us to save location and transportation costs — shoot on the lot, but at the same time be on an alien planet, and also control the environment much more easily.
BW:: We added two large sound stages to our standing sets.
RC: We built this enormous village set and a cave, which are all going to play in multiple episodes as different locations.
BW:: The cave is really — you won’t recognize it as a cave sometimes. Certainly in “Avalon” there’s a cave and in “Runner” on Atlantis it’s sort of a grotto. It’s got a grotto quality. The village is large enough that we’re going to be able to shoot in nooks and crannies on multiple episodes of both series and you won’t recognize that it’s the same village.
We always get pitched stories [where] the team finds a village. And I’m like, “Village … Look around for a village, guys! There’s not very many villages.” And in an episode of Season Three called “Demons” we took Stage One of Norco and built the inside of a town. And that became multiple sets.
RC: The “Red Sky” village.
BW:: It became the underground city in “2001” that was buried. So we purposely decided, “Let’s build a village and make it purpose-built so that we can convert it and redo it and have enough elements to it so we can even turn exterior rooms into interior rooms. Basically, it’s a giant LEGO set and we can move the pieces around — inspired to a certain degree by what we’ve been able to do with our Atlantis standing set.
The Atlantis sets have also doubled in size because that’s allowed us to take more space out of our other — what we called the “Blade” set, which is the set we had from the “Blade” movie. But we’ve significantly increased our sets and studio space.
I wrote a bit of a rant in the companion of Season Five and Six. It was: “Even if we could go off world every time, even if we wanted to and even if we had the money, there is also a limited amount of personal resources” — because we didn’t have the stage space. And now that we have standing set space ships, we have standing set cargo ships … We’ve just, after so many years, built up so many things that were purpose-built for one or two episodes and now [have] just become part of our set repertoire. We can do more.
RC: Having said that, I don’t apologize at all, one bit for some of the Earth storylines that we’ve done. I love them. I think that the global intrigue, political side to the Stargate program is one of the things that makes it so cool. It’s happening right now. How do these things change our world? How can you do a show about eight years of going to other planets without seeing the effect of that on Earth and the world?
BW:: Politics! In fact, that’s something that we fully intend to explore more in Season 14 and 15.
RC: I love it. We are going to continue to do that and I don’t care what people say about that. It’s one of the most interesting aspects of the show. It’s happening right now. These are the little people who live on the planet Earth. And seeing how that plays out — we’re going to do a big storyline where an alien plague gets out on Earth, but isn’t just contained.
BW:: Genuine pandemic repercussions.
GW: On Earth?
BW:: Mhmm. The fun of doing “Lost City” in Season Seven, and playing — especially with the casting that we were able to get — playing the President going, “You have got to be kidding!” when he hears about Anubis. To me that dynamic is so much fun because that’s to me the way it would be.
RC: What if Stargate really existed and you had an episode of The West Wing where President Bartlet had to deal with something going wrong with the Stargate program? That’s fun!
GW: So can we see William Devane again this year?
RC: Actually, we don’t know. It’s possible.
BW: He’s still on 24.
RC: He apparently had a great time doing the show and would like to come back and we’d love to have him back. Right at the moment we’re trying to work out how to make it work so that General Jumper can be on the show again. That may happen.
GW: And [what] about Rick? For the season finale, perhaps?
BW:: We asked him, and I think as a favor to us, we asked him to, for the lack of a better word, endorse the series without him by appearing in it so it seems as though his leaving is just that.
And, by the way, his character is very much alive … off-screen. [Laughter] I wrote a scene in “Beachhead” where on the other end of the phone he plays a joke on General Landry. Basically he’s talking to him and it’s: “That’s very funny, Jack,” and he hangs up the phone.
RC: But the thing is it’s more than just having him alive in the series. He’s still O’Neill. He’s still kind of doing O’Neill things from his office in Washington to people on the base. Imminent situations that they don’t expect, not telling them key pieces of information that they should know.
BW:: Yeah, in “Avalon” Landry says — it’s one of my favorite lines — “He didn’t open the damn drawer of his desk the entire time?”
RC: He didn’t have keys to the desk. And he’s like, “I asked him for a week and he finally admitted he didn’t have one. The man never opened a drawer the entire time he was here.”
BW:: Which is very O’Neill.
But you’re talking six new, between the two series — and it’s one two-hour block of television, because that’s how we have to think of it. And that’s a lot of new blood, six new actors. But it’s great. It’s great. And you will see a “shinier” SG-1, certainly.
RC: I think that a little bit of the self-referential humor and the feeling that maybe we, the writers, weren’t taking things as seriously as the fans did is gone. Certainly, there’s a little more of a straighter take to Season Nine, if that makes any sense. It’s a little more straight-forward, hardcore Stargate like it used to be where we’re not mocking what’s going on in the show.
BW:: If only because it became difficult, when Jack, Sam, Daniel, were in the midst of saving the Earth for time number 73, it became difficult for them not to at least acknowledge, “This is familiar.” Whereas with the new blood it’s a different story. “Wow, it’s my first time saving the Earth! This is going to be great!”
And, in fact, Ben has been playing that energy because Robert wrote a great deal of enthusiasm into the character. And one of his early questions is, “Why am I so enthusiastic?” And the short answer is: “Because he [Robert] was.” [Laughter] And so it shows in the work and it shows now in Ben’s performance.
GW: It’s got to help because Ben — and he’s told me himself — is a genuine fan of the show.
BW:: He is now, he is now. He’s become one, yeah.
GW: That enthusiasm has got to come through the screen.
BW:: You know, so are we! We were explaining to a new executive who’s at MGM, “We like this show. We’re proud of this show.” There’s no other reason — well I guess there’s lots of reasons. But it’s one of the main reason we’re still here. We have been in these bloody offices a long time.
That’s fairly unusual in television. And it’s because we’ve been able to keep ourselves creatively stimulated. And last year, too, of Atlantis, but this year as well with SG-1 Season Nine.
RC: I understand when a certain segment of the audience goes, “Oh, they’re just cynical writers who are cashing their paycheck and churning out clichés, the same old crap just so they can go home early.” I understand them saying that, but I also resent it because it’s not true. We do try 100 percent all the time. It’s not as though we are just slacking off trying to get 35 minutes in focus.
BW:: A really good example is, for a producer, one of the hardest things to have to do, especially in Season One of a new series, is a clip show. And we were both determined to come up with two of the best damn shells for a clip show that we could come up with. And I think “Citizen Joe” and “Letters From Pegasus” are great episodes. I mean, “Citizen Joe” is a little cynical, but …
GW: That’s what made it good.
RC: Yeah. Well, it’s that we do sit here and truly enjoy watching the show. We know there are times when yes, we know we haven’t been as successful as we’ve wanted to be, either through out own failings or the trappings of production. But that doesn’t mean we don’t sit here on a daily basis and kind of — we are jazzed by doing the show and by seeing it. We’re energized by it. It’s not just about cashing a paycheck. We love it.
BW:: We are here by eleven every day and stay till way past lunch! No, I’m kidding, obviously. Way back in the days we were doing one show, that was possible every now and then by August. But we’re at the stage now in terms of generating script material that if this were one season we’d be almost done now.
GW: Incredible. Well you guys have a lot to be proud of. We’re still doing this because we love the shows that much. Or we wouldn’t be here! It’s terrific.
RC: We’re really hoping, believing, that if we are as excited as we are about everything that’s happening …
BW:: My gut instincts on these things — and yours, too — have been generally on the conservative side of success. When we did Atlantis we thought, “Gee, this is pretty good. It should do pretty well, huh?” And Robert, having more faith than I did, God bless him, went and bought a bottle of champagne. I almost had a tear in my eye when he pulled it out because it showed a —
RC: I predicted in the spring when we’re all sitting around with Hank Cohen, who is the president of [MGM] Television. We were sort of having our dangerous conversation about predicting what the ratings were going to be. And nobody quite wanted to jinx it, and what would make us happy. And I think we looked at what some of the mini-series had done, and what the highest ratings of SG-1 …
Everybody was saying that they thought anything over 2.5 would be a home run, that they would be really satisfied and happy with that, that it would be a good start and maybe it would build from there. And I said, “I’m just not going to be happy with anything less than a three.” I was the only one who would dare use a three number. And when it came in, the first overnights we heard were 3.7. It could go down, or it could go up from there.
BW:: That means the major market that is what it did.
RC: … which is the ten largest cities. And then we heard about an hour later we got the 3.2 number which is what if finally ended up being. That’s when I opened the champagne. I wasn’t going to crack it until I really …
GW: And did you pour it over Brad’s head?
BW:: He tried to but I cut caught it all! And that is a huge number considering SCI FI. I don’t mean to diminish who they are as a network. Who they’ve become as a network — and I don’t have to say this because they’re saying it enough on their own — is largely because of us. They are now a top-ten cable network because of Stargate. Because of “both the gates,” as they call them. They call them “the gates.” OK, whatever.
We’re almost, I think — I don’t know if it’s still the case — but at one point, for most of last year, represented well over 24 percent?
RC: Over 20 percent.
BW:: Over 20 percent of their primetime air. That’s … pretty unusual! [Laughter]